Convention ends with numerous and lengthy journalist detainments

Newsgathering | Feature | September 3, 2004

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Convention ends with numerous and lengthy journalist detainments

  • A number of journalists were detained -- some for more than 24 hours -- while reporting the convention and protests at the Republican National Convention in New York City.

Sep. 3, 2004 -- Despite assurances from New York City police that arrests of journalists would be minimized, numerous credentialed and uncredentialed journalists were detained during the Republican National Convention -- some for extended periods of time.

In anticipation of such detentions, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press established a hotline to provide cost-free legal assistance to journalists covering the convention, as it has at every national political convention since 1976. The hotline was staffed and cosponsored by attorneys from the law firm of Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, who coordinated with volunteer attorneys from other firms.

Hotline attorneys were trained by experienced criminal lawyers in how to practically navigate the New York criminal courts. Hotline attorney David Schulz coordinated with police before the convention to arrange for journalists detained with protesters to be quickly released.

According to hotline attorney Halimah DeLaine, the hotline received 9 or 10 calls between Friday, when protesters began to arrive, and the end of the convention on Thursday. In contrast, hotlines established at the Democratic National Convention in Boston and the 1992 Democratic convention in New York, the last time a presidential convention was held in the city, received no reports of journalists being detained.

Aside from the number of calls, the length of journalists' detentions -- some over 24 hours -- is troubling.

Confusion, both by journalists and police, also arose over what credentials would be accepted. According to DeLaine, journalists with NYPD credentials were generally released immediately, while journalists with Republican National Convention or other credentials were not. DeLaine said that some reporters with convention credentials only were turned over to the Secret Service for verification. The Secret Service then took the credentials, saying the journalists could get new ones the next day, and returned the journalists to the NYPD, now without any credentials to prove that they were journalists.

Newsday photographer Moises Saman was detained Sunday while covering protesters. Stephanie Abrutyn, a Newsday attorney who had attended hotline training, contacted police and Saman was released when he arrived at Pier 57, a temporary processing center dubbed "Guantanamo on the Hudson" by protesters. He was held for about two hours.

A cameraman from WOWD News in Athens, Ohio was detained at the same time as Saman, but was released without being sent to Pier 57. The hotline was notified shortly before he was detained and contacted police, who said they already knew about him and would release him.

Associated Press photo runner Jeannette Warner was detained Tuesday when police closed an entire block containing about 100 protesters. The AP photographer with Warner was also detained but was promptly released upon displaying official NYPD credentials. DeLaine was able to secure Warner's release and have the arrest voided, but only after obtaining a letter from AP's New York bureau chief confirming Warner's status. Warner was held for about 12 hours.

Another AP photo runner, Tim Kulick, was detained around 8:00 p.m. Tuesday night. Because he was a temporary employee, efforts to gain his release on Wednesday were unsuccessful. Hotline attorney Alia Smith worked throughout the night to secure his release at 6:00 a.m. Thursday morning after coming to an agreement that charges would be dismissed after six months if Kulick has no further legal trouble.

Annie Tritt, a photographer for the San Francisco Bay View , was stopped Tuesday but released after telling police she was awaiting credentials from the NYPD.

Daniel Jones, a journalist with WRDR radio in New York with both convention and NYPD credentials was stopped and searched Tuesday. He was detained by police and the Secret Service when he was found to have protest schedules he had obtained from demonstrators that contained violent ant-Bush statements. His credentials were taken and he was released after about three and a half hours.

Jennifer Whitney, a reporter with Internet news service Narco News Bulletin , was detained Tuesday night while covering a protest by the Infernal Noise Brigade marching band. According to her attorney, Ronald Kuby, she did not have convention press credentials and was sent for processing at Pier 57 along with protesters. She was held until at least Wednesday night.

Nick Gehring and Beth Rankin, uncredentialed reporters from the Kent State University Daily Kent Stater , were both detained Tuesday. Gehring was charged with disorderly conduct and released after about 22 hours. Hotline attorney Jeff Drichta was able to get Rankin released at 3:00 a.m. Thursday.

Credentialed freelance photojournalist Geoffrey O'Connor was leaving his office for the convention Tuesday evening when he spotted a protest and started to film. He did not have his credentials with him and was detained. He was released when his credentials were delivered and resumed filming. The police officer who originally detained him again threatened to arrest him and said he would have his company's credentials reviewed and revoked.

Kelley Benjamin, a reporter with a Tampa, Fla. weekly, was arrested Tuesday and held until 6:30 p.m. Thursday. Hotline attorney Ryan Miller was unable to get police to release her because of a lawsuit filed by the National Lawyers Guild on behalf of all people held longer than 24 hours. Miller was in court with NLG lawyers on Thursday when the city was fined $1,000 for each person held longer than 24 hours and ordered to release them. Benjamin was ticketed and released.

Democracy Now reporter Daniel Cashin was detained during rush hour Wednesday. Miller secured his release later that evening and his arrest was voided.

Volunteer hotline attorneys were: Schulz, DeLaine, Smith and Jay Brown of Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz LLP; Drichta, Miller, Warren Feldman, Christopher Land, Jennifer Wendy and Amber Wessels of Clifford Chance US LLP; John Siegal of Proskauer Rose LLP.

-- GP

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